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Saints sign three draft picks, including Sheldon Rankins

The New Orleans Saints signed more than half of their 2016 draft class on Monday, including first-round defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

The Saints also signed second-round receiver Michael Thomas and seventh-round Daniel Lasco. To make room, they released running back Vick Ballard, fullback Toben Opurum and defensive end Phillip Hunt.

Rookie contracts have become much more automatic in recent years since they essentially became slotted after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. All three rookies signed four-year deals. Rankins’ deal comes with a fifth-year team option.

The Saints still have two rookies left to sign -- second-round safety Vonn Bell and fourth-round defensive tackle David Onyemata. There is a good chance they’ll have them inked before this weekend’s three-day rookie minicamp.

Ballard, who began his career with the Indianapolis Colts, signed with the Saints in February to try and resurrect his career after battling injuries for three years. But the Saints’ backfield became even more crowded when they drafted Lasco.

Opurum, who joined the Saints’ practice squad in December 2014, was active for two games last year. The Saints signed the veteran Hunt last November, but he never appeared in a game.